Monday, September 25, 2023
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Sect Member Turns Tables on United States

PHOENIX (CN) - The city manager of an Arizona town the federal government accuses of discriminating against people who do not belong to a fundamentalist Mormon sect told a jury Wednesday that he is a victim of religious discrimination by the Department of Justice.

The United States sued the border towns of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah in 2012, accusing them of denying police protection and utilities to non-members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most resident of the towns are followers of the church and its leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving life plus 20 years in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting two girls he called his spiritual wives. The jury trial is in its fourth week.

Colorado City Manager David Darger told the jury that the Department of Justice's actions against the towns were "politically motivated."

"They want to take me and smear me and try to make me look bad for their ulterior motive," Darger said. "The federal government wants to come in and usurp and trample on state rights."

In a contentious debate with Department of Justice attorney Sean Keveney, Darger told Keveney he didn't trust anything Keveney told him.

"I think you've developed a prejudice and animosity to any person you perceive" as involved with the FLDS, Darger said.

Earlier Wednesday, Darger told Jeff Matura, an attorney for Colorado City, that the federal government's lawsuit caused him to suffer "a violation that I don't think is right for an American citizen."

According to Darger, the Department of Justice contacted his probation officer to take photos of his personal belongings - a sign of "how low they will stoop in their efforts in this case."

Darger said it felt as if he'd been "kicked and knocked over by the side of the road" by the federal government.

Darger pleaded guilty in 2013 to two counts of solicitation of misuse of public funds, and was sentenced to three years unsupervised probation.

Darger and former Colorado City Fire District Chief Jacob Barlow were accused of misusing tens of thousands of dollars of Fire District money for travel, fancy meals and gift cards.

Department of Justice witnesses have testified that Darger, a witness for the defense, altered police reports and participated in hiring deputies for the Colorado City Marshal's Office who were also members of church security.

The United States accuses the Marshal's Office of selectively enforcing "laws and regulations against non-FLDS individuals on the basis of religion."

During his testimony, Darger denied claims by former Chief Marshal Helaman Barlow and a law enforcement expert for the Department of Justice that Darger's edits of police reports sought to change the outcome of incidents and were improper.

One edited report included a handwritten addendum by Darger, though he claimed the document was not actually a police report, but a "rough draft narrative" that Barlow asked him to look over.

"These were simply questions and suggestions I wanted to review with him," Darger said. "[Barlow] felt like it was a good idea for me."

Keveney presented Darger with a roster of alleged church security members which included Darger's name and two of the last three hires for the Marshal's Office. Darger denied having any knowledge that the hires were members of church security, or to using that information as a reason to hire the men. Church security allegedly tracks current and former FLDS members, and keeps an eye out for visits from outside law enforcement.

"You were in fact involved with church security," Keveney said.

"If I'm involved with any church or religious activity ... it's private," Darger testified.

Darger questioned whether it matters if the applicants were involved with church security.

"I don't know that it would've been a big deal," Darger said.

The trial continues Thursday.

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